What are your favorite Christmas hymns and carols?

Frankly, I can do without all of the secular holiday music, or at least most of it. I want something less contrived and commercial. Even Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score wears thin.

I’m not entirely insensitive, though. Here are ten I enjoy singing, especially in a choir.

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  1. People, Look East: this 1928 Advent carol by Eleanor Farjeon is a joyous accompaniment when making preparations ahead of Christmas.
  2. In the Bleak Midwinter: I want to think of this as a plaintive folksong, but the words are by Christina Rossetti and the music’s by English master Gustav Holst. It catches the blue side of the approaching winter, but also the hope and comfort to be found therein.
  3. Once in Royal David’s City: If you can, go for the fully celebrative midnight mass with a full pipe organ and all five verses sung in the Anglican style that alternates soft and loud.
  4. There Are Angels Hovering Round: It’s an old call-and-response hymn that seems to have hundreds of verses, if you want to keep going. There’s no escaping the sense of togetherness when you’re singing.
  5. Fairest and Brightest (Star of the East): I first heard this in a recording by Kentucky folksinger Jean Ritchie, but it also works in formal arrangements. The text is a protest song befitting the suffering classes of the story.
  6. Nouvelle Agreable: by Swiss composer Jean-Georges Nageli, the bouncy music almost sounds like Mozart though even Native Americans near the Arctic will sing and dance to it, too. (Check it out on YouTube.)
  7. La Valse Cadienne de Noel: words and music by Jeannette V. Aguillard. What, you don’t waltz during the Twelve Days of Christmas?
  8. Traveler’s Carol: A traditional Catalan carol of coming together for the holiday. We use English by Susan Cooper in an arrangement by George Emlen.
  9. The Coventry Carol: a haunting sense of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents and of the crucifixion to come infuse this lullaby.
  10. The Old Year is Dying: a cheerful Welsh piece to welcome the New Year. Again, New Year’s Day falls in the Twelve Days.

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What are your favorites?

Ten ‘First World’ problems

So many modern annoyances seem minor when you look at a more global perspective. I know, it’s become a cliché over the past few years, but it’s true.

For instance.

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  1. My refrigerator is too full but there’s nothing I wanna eat.
  2. I lost the remote. How do you turn the thing on?
  3. My wallet’s too small.
  4. Why does my favorite take-out close so early?
  5. None of the ten outfits I tried on for the weekend quite do it. I’ll have to buy something new.
  6. There’s no dip for the chips.
  7. I can’t decide whether to take the trip to Paris with my sister or Hawaii with my mother. They’re both the same week.
  8. My Fitbit doesn’t have a heart rate monitor.
  9. The cleaner couldn’t make it last week. My bin’s almost full.
  10. My toilet paper roll is too big for the holder.

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My, aren’t we spoiled. What would you add to the list?

 

Feeling stupid, again

Do you ever have the feeling when you’re reading or listening to certain discussions that you have little idea what’s going on?

The kind that hinge on knowing certain figures being referenced, for starters?

I could point to overhearing the lifeguards gossiping about their plans for the weekend or last Friday’s party, or even some of the slang they’re using. Fair enough.

These days, now that I’ve been out of the news business nearly eight years, it can happen even when people are discussing political developments or pop culture celebrities. Yes, I’ve curtailed my awareness there – too many other things to work on.

With other people, I’ve commonly missed social cues, leading to awkward situations or much worse. Add to that my lack of hands-on ability in home repairs and other domestic necessities, even before we get to high tech or digital gaming.

And trying to remember people’s names and faces has always been a challenge.

Oh, my, this confession hurts – but I have witnesses. And it’s not even where I thought this post would begin.

Look, I’ve been considered a rather intelligent guy all my life, one with a broad range of inquiry of an interdisciplinary type. Something of a geek, actually, who loves classical music and opera and the great outdoors but labors as a wordsmith.

But here’s where the twist kicks in.

Too often when I’m reading an article in, say, the New York Review of Books, I’m feeling flummoxed. No, I haven’t read most of the books or even authors being discussed, the subtleties of the argument are eluding me, I have no background on the time or place or conflicts under consideration. And they’re being raised like it’s something every real thinker should already know. Yipes!

It’s happening again as I read a collection of conversations and correspondence between Gary Snyder and Julia Martin. I get the mentions of other poets, yes, though some of the talk gets pretty technical. But when they wander off into Buddhism, it goes way beyond my many readings, and then there’s a whole library of ecological and goddess philosophy volumes they invoke, all unknown to me.

Once again, I’m feeling stupid. Not just humbled but speechless.

Perhaps I could turn to my beloved musical experiences, but even there, I’m a rank amateur. Yes, I often baffle those around me when I mention a certain composer or performer, but put me in a circle of real musicians, and I’m again overwhelmed. I can’t even tell you what key a piece is in when I look at a score. Just wait till they get really technical.

Well, I do have some specialties, beginning with Quaker theology and history, but even there I’m a rank amateur compared to the pros, meaning college professors.

The fact remains that I believe these things are important, even if I can’t remember details like the title of a poem I truly enjoyed or the import of particular yoga luminaries.

Maybe in wanting to know it all, at least on some corner of the intellectual frontier, I’m left knowing very little.

As I said, I’m feeling stupid, again.

Speaking Truth to power

We’ve heard the phrase a lot lately, but few know that it originated as a Quaker expression.

Most of us Quakers, or members of the Society of Friends, assumed it was one of those many great expressions from the beginning of the movement, back in the upheavals of the mid-1600s.

Not so, it turns out. Nor even the 1700s or 1800s. It’s much more recent than that.

The expression originated with a 1955 pamphlet published by the American Friends Service Committee titled “Speak Truth to Power: a Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,” which promoted pacifism.

Still, it rings true to the early Quakers, who spoke boldly with an alternative Christianity that  brought many changes to British and American society. The faith and its practice went far beyond mere religion. It extended through one’s relationships, including labor, possessions, business, politics, education, leisure, and nearly everything else.

For them, Truth was Christ, so speaking Truth to those in authority was to challenge the rulers and oppressors, countering them with the greater life and dominion of Jesus.

This goes way, way beyond being factually correct.

It’s more like invoking what others might do when they form a sign of the Cross when facing a demon.

Let’s not forget that authority.

What you’ll find in my studio

  1. My laptop and the battery rechargers for my smartphone and digital camera.
  2. Tons of paper. Manuscripts, notes to myself, bills, and correspondence, mostly.
  3. My journals. (200+ volumes.)
  4. My stereo. Yes, I still love vinyl.
  5. My most favorite books plus dictionaries, thesauruses, reference works.
  6. Separately, my collected Quaker and related religious volumes.
  7. Seashells and rocks from across the continent.
  8. Incense, a small Shiva Nataraja statue, and a postcard of Green Tara.
  9. Filing cabinets and mailing supplies.
  10. A cabinet drawer stuffed with maps.

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What’s your favorite workspace? What doodads would we see there?